Top positive review
It is more acting than singing, but that works with the tale of Sweeney Todd
on December 26, 2007
As near as I can remember I never saw the "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street Deluxe - Complete Edition" CD when I ordered this "Highlights" CD, because I would have wanted the whole thing. The differences between the two are not that much: the complete version has the Beggar Woman's "Alms Alms" linking Johanna's "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" and Anthony's "Johanna"; the Beadle and the Judge cover "Ladies and Their Sensitivities" before "Pretty Woman"; and the biggest addition is the 10-minute plus "Final Scene." Several of the tracks are a bit longer on the full version as well, so there are those minor differences as well, but the difference is not as significant as what exists between the 2-disc original Broadway cast album and its single disc of highlights. The irony is that I do not get to see the movie version any time soon because the company that manages the local theaters decided Paramount wanted too big of a slice of the ticket price, which is why the one movie I most wanted to see during the holiday break is not showing within 100 miles of where I live. So I have to content myself with the highlights soundtrack (at least until I track down a way of downloading the other tracks).
All things considered "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is my favorite musical, although it is really more of an opera. I read one review of the film that said nobody was going to think that Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter would be the finest singers ever to essay the roles, but that their performances were perfectly suited for the big screen (in contrast to the Broadway stage). When I first saw "Sweeney Todd" performed on stage by a touring company the role of Mrs. Lovett was played by June Havok as in "Baby June," the big sister of Gypsy Rose Lee (see "Gypsy"). Havok's coming timing was honed in Vaudeville before Stephen Sondheim was even born, but she sang the role at least a whole octave lower than Angela Landesbury. Consequently, I am open to the idea that Depp is more of a tenor than a baritone. I also had occasion to direct a one-act version of the musical, without the music (change away a few of the rhymes here and there and the songs work as dialogue quite well). So when you listen to the opening track and do not hear anybody singing "Attend the tail of Sweeney Todd," it is a bit disconcerting, but it does set the tone for the drama to follow, even if much of what is being said is being sung.
For me the strength of the show comes at the end of the first act, which concludes with "Pretty Women," "Epiphany," and "A Little Priest," and those are the strongest part of this highlight album as well. Of course, hearing Depp growl his invitations to gentlemen to take a seat in his barber's chair only makes me what to see the movie even more, and I feel that the album will work much better as a reminder of what you see on screen rather than standing on its own merit as a soundtrack album. The same thing applies to Bonham Carter, whose "Worst Pies in London," "Poor Thing," "Wait," and "By the Sea" only reinforce the idea that these performances must be seen and not just heard (I really anticipate this being one of those musicals where you would rather listen to the DVD rather than the CD when you want to hear the songs again). There is little choice to judge Jamie Campbell Bower's Anthony Hope or Jayne Wisener's Johanna, because the primary focus here is clearly on Depp and Bonham Carter, with young Ed Sanders shinning as Toby on the album's concluding track, "Not While I'm Around" (putting him at the younger end of the adolescent spectrum was a good move). We only get a taste of Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin and Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli, but it is enough to know that Rickman is matching Depp in emphasizing the drama over the vocals and that Cohen knows full well he is stealing his scene as Pirelli. Did I mention that I really want to see this movie?